Monday, 7 March 2016

The Ambient Noise Theory

I’ve been playing with an idea called the Ambient Noise Theory.

It’s quite simple: stupid, violent and emotionally damaged people need constant background noise in their lives to drown out their internal critical dialogue.

Have you ever stood in a bad part of town and listened? You hear shouting, children screaming or crying, car horns, excessively loud music, sirens – all on top of each other. It’s more than ordinary city noise, it is people creating more noise for the sake of more noise.

You probably know people who must turn on a TV or radio the moment they enter a room, or people who can’t stand to do work without some sound/music? These are people desperately afraid of confronting some truth about themselves, so they try to drown it out with constant distractions. They tend to congregate (feeding off the noise the others are producing), which is why whole neighbourhoods emerge like this. The noise is clamorous and demanding of attention, and therefore it’s safe. They can deal with the street, they can’t deal with what’s in their heads.

This background noise doesn't have to be auditory either. Clutter and general messiness are optical versions of the same background noise. People will buy junk and never throw anything away because it creates a visual garden of distractions. Their eye can dance over a room for hours and see different things in the clutter, each triggering some superficial memory. The mind is so busy processing what the eye sees and recalling the seen object’s context, that there’s no time for thinking “Why do I collect all this stuff?” The classic case here is the suburban family filling their house with stuff or the teenager coating their room with posters.

The noise can also be mental – constant text messaging, video-game playing, excessive internet usage, etc – to fill up the isolated islands of downtime in everyone’s day.

The point is not simply that they like the noise, it’s that they create the noise. The chaos outside mirrors the chaos in their mind, therefore drowning out the latter. When taken together (the desire for and generation of audio and visual noise), you get the psychological antithesis of a Zen garden. It is the Noise Garden.

The purpose of the Noise Garden is to block one’s internal dialogue, the voice in your head trying to refocus on the important things you should be doing or thinking about. That voice is the source of reflection, insight and emotional development. For a lot of people it wants to revisit things they'd prefer not to deal with – some past emotional traumas or wrong they've committed and for which they are repressing their guilt, for instance.

While walking in bush recently a friend mentioned how the “mute indifference of nature is terrifying”. It made sense because in the bush there is no opportunity for constant distraction. The quiet invariably leads to contemplation, which invariably leads to thoughts like “Daddy, why did you leave us” or “I shouldn’t have cheated on her.” Nature is quiet and static so the mind can’t help but conjure things to fill the gap. And if you’d rather not think about these things, you don’t want to be out in nature.

Except if you are a farmer. Farms require massive amounts of demanding physical work and planning. The farmer is focused on his job and can’t allow his mind to wander too long, so he appreciates the “mute indifference of nature” because he’s busy trying to wrestle nature to conform to his schedule. I think this quote from Pascal sums it up: “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Anyway, at least it explains everything on Police Ten Seven.

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